Gafcon IV and the revolution in world Anglicanism

2022 Lambeth Conference opening service in Canterbury Cathedral (PHOTO: ACNS News Service)

By Martin Davie — Originally published in Christianity Today

During the course of the 20th and 21st centuries we have seen time and again that when a revolution has occurred those who were formerly in charge (who are now holed up in a bunker somewhere or have fled the country) still claim that they are the government and issue orders on that basis.

The most spectacular example of this sort of delusion was the fact that after the Kuomintang regime led by Chiang Kai-shek lost the Chinese civil war in 1949 and fled to Taiwan, it still claimed to be the sole legitimate government of the whole of China, a claim which it continued to maintain until the end of the 1980s, even though it no longer had any factual basis.

I have been reminded of these stories of deposed regimes unwilling or unable to face reality as a result of reading the statement issued by Lambeth Palace in response to ‘The Kigali Commitment’ issued by Gafcon IV on April 21.

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The statement runs as follows: “We note that The Kigali Commitment issued by GAFCON IV today makes many of the same points that have previously been made about the structures of the Anglican Communion. As the Archbishop of Canterbury has previously said, those structures are always able to change with the times – and have done so in the past. The Archbishop said at the recent Anglican Consultative Council meeting in Ghana (ACC-18) that no changes to the formal structures of the Anglican Communion can be made unless they are agreed upon by the Instruments of Communion.

“At the ACC-18 meeting – which was attended by primates, bishops, clergy and laity from 39 of the 42 Anglican provinces – there was widespread support for working together patiently and constructively to review the Instruments of Communion, so that our differences and disagreements can be held together in unity and fellowship. Archbishop Justin Welby has welcomed this decision – just as he also welcomed last year’s decision by the Church of England’s General Synod to give the Anglican Communion a greater voice on the body that nominates future Archbishops of Canterbury.

“The Archbishop continues to be in regular contact with his fellow Primates and looks forward to discussing this and many other matters with them over the coming period. Meanwhile the Archbishop continues to pray especially for Anglicans who face poverty, conflict, famine, discrimination and persecution around the world, and Anglican churches who live and minister in these contexts. Continuing to walk together as Anglicans is not just the best way to share Christ’s love with a world in great need: it is also how the world will know that Jesus Christ is sent from the Father who calls us to love one another, even as we disagree.”

This statement gives the impression that it will be the Archbishop of Canterbury and the three other Anglican “Instruments of Communion” (the Lambeth Conference, the Primates Meeting and the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC)) over which he presides that will determine the future course of world Anglicanism.

Having been at Gafcon IV in Kigali, I can say without any shadow of a doubt that this claim is as mistaken as the claim by the Kuomintang that they still ran China.

As we were frequently reminded at Gafcon IV, the churches represented by Gafcon and the Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches (GSFA) represent the vast majority (some 85%) of worshipping Anglicans around the world today, and both these bodies have now completely rejected the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the other Instruments of Communion and intend to reset the Anglican Communion themselves.

The last straw for them has been the support given by the Archbishop of Canterbury for proposals by the Church of England’s House of Bishops to permit prayers of blessing for same-sex couples (including those in civil same-sex marriages).

The position of the GSFA on the matter was made clear in its press statement on February 20. This declared: “The GSFA is no longer able to recognise the present Archbishop of Canterbury, the Rt Hon & Most Reverend Justin Welby, as the ‘first among equals’ Leader of the global Communion. He has sadly led his House of Bishops to make the recommendations that undergirded the General Synod motion on ‘Living in Love & Faith,’ knowing that they run contrary to the faith & order of the orthodox provinces in the Communion whose people constitute the majority in the global flock. We pray that our withdrawal of support for him to leave the whole communion is received by him as an abolishment in love.”

The statement then went on to say: “With the Church of England and the Archbishop of Canterbury forfeiting their leadership role of the goal of the global Communion, GSFA Primates will expeditiously meet, consult and work with other orthodox Primates in the Anglican Church across the nations to reset the communion on its biblical foundation. We look forward to collaborating with Primates and bishops in the GAFCON movement and other orthodox Anglican groupings to work out the shape and nature of our common life together and how we are to keep the priority of proclaiming and witnessing the gospel of Jesus Christ in the world foremost in our life as God’s people.”

It further stated: “…we believe it is no longer possible to continue the way the communion is. We do not accept the view that we can still ‘walk together’ with the revisionist provinces as prescribed by the Anglican Communion office and in the exploratory way proposed by IASCUFO (Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Unity, Faith & Order) at the recent Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) 18 meeting.”

At Gafcon IV last month, the Primates of the GSFA duly met with the Primates of Gafcon and they agreed to work together to reset the Anglican Communion on the lines proposed by GSFA.

This agreement was reflected in “The Kigali Commitment”. Like the GSFA’s Ash Wednesday statement the Commitment declares: “We have no confidence that the Archbishop of Canterbury nor the other Instruments of Communion led by him (the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates’ Meetings) are able to provide a godly way forward that will be acceptable to those who are committed to the truthfulness, clarity, sufficiency and authority of Scripture. The Instruments of Communion have failed to maintain true communion based on the Word of God and shared faith in Christ.”

It then further declares that, due to the actions of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Church of England’s House of Bishops and General Synod in supporting proposals to permit the blessing of same-sex relationships, both the GAFCON and GSFA Primates: “… can no longer recognise the Archbishop of Canterbury as an Instrument of Communion, the ‘first among equals’ of the Primates. The Church of England has chosen to impair her relationship with the orthodox provinces in the Communion.

“We welcome the GSFA’s Ash Wednesday Statement of 20 February 2023, calling for a resetting and reordering of the Communion. We applaud the invitation of the GSFA Primates to collaborate with GAFCON and other orthodox Anglican groupings to work out the shape and nature of our common life together and how we are to maintain the priority of proclaiming the gospel and making disciples of all nations.

“Resetting the Communion is an urgent matter. It needs an adequate and robust foundation that addresses the legal and constitutional complexities in various Provinces. The goal is that orthodox Anglicans worldwide will have a clear identity, a global ‘spiritual home’ of which they can be proud, and a strong leadership structure that gives them stability and direction as Global Anglicans. We therefore commit to pray that God will guide this process of resetting, and that GAFCON and GSFA will keep in step with the Spirit.”

What all this means is that the revolution has occurred. The Primates of GAFCON and the GSFA will work together to reset the future of worldwide Anglicanism on their own terms and as things stand at the moment, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the other Instruments of Communion will have no say in this at all.

Lambeth Palace needs to “wake up and smell the coffee”. As an English Anglican, my experience at Gafcon was deeply sobering. The churches to which the vast majority of Anglicans belong feel completely betrayed by the Archbishop of Canterbury and by the Church of England as their mother church.

Their leadership role in the Anglican Communion is now over and the only way in which they can retain any degree of credibility among the orthodox majority in the Communion is if the proposals brought to the Church of England’s General Synod by the House of Bishops in February are withdrawn and the Church of England instead re-affirms its commitment to the orthodox position on marriage and human sexuality laid out in Resolution 1.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference.

If this does not happen, the only Anglicans in England who will be able to remain in full communion with the orthodox majority in the Anglican Communion will be those who continue to reject the Church of England’s new position.

The revolution has taken place. The old Anglican order has gone, and Lambeth needs to accept this reality.

Martin Davie is a lay Anglican theologian and Associate Tutor in Doctrine at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford.

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